INTRODUCTION

“It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

For Kierkegaard, faith is a “jump into the irrational”; for Kant, when consent is “not sufficient subjectively, and is insufficient objectively, we call it belief”. For others, faith is mere opinion 1. There is an implicit scientific and academic apriori behind our common definitions of faith that “what this person believes, I know” 2. For this reason, it is not uncommon to hear universal statements from scientism such as “all beliefs are false”, “all beliefs are subjective”, “facts are truer than faith”, “faith is opposed to science”, etc. These kinds of beliefs (pun intended) are epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical universal statements about how people come to know the world and reality that are highly dependent on paradigmatic aprioris of the individual uttering them. But mostly, they are dependent on how one views “faith” itself.

And yet, faith is a critical component of our Christian way of life. On the day this article is published, the Sunday before Nativity, the Orthodox Church celebrates the righteous believers of the Old Testament. Today’s epistle reading is of Saint Paul to the Hebrews (XI):

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

In this epistle, we see links made between things unseen, things to come, assurance, faith and righteousness. But how so? This article will try to identify these links and make them clearer to the inquirer.

This article is not a work of apologetics and we will not delve very deep into the philosophical arguments considering these statements as others are much better than us at this 3. Rather, we will take a cursory look at this issue of “faith” through the eyes of symbols. One of the reasons is that some people new to symbolism, religion and especially Christianity have preconceived (or poor) notions of faith, especially considering that many great and classic works on the Christian faith assume that the readers already know what it is.

One of my goals is to show that faith is not a simplified epistemological position of lower tier than reason or science 4. I am asserting that faith, as it is understood in the Christian sense, has three major components: epistemological, relational and active. The consequence of this tripartite faith is indeed that we can assent to a received truth (i.e. what has been “traditioned to us”) and act on that truth to actualize it within our life 5.

In order to do this, the article will have three main parts, each dealing with one of these components. The first will deal with epistemology and faith in order to hopefully remove preconceived negative perceptions of what we call “faith”. Then, we will look at the “symbol of faith”, i.e. the Nicene creed, from the perspective of what the declaration of faith itself means in relational terms, not in its content. Finally, we will take a look at the symbolism of faithfulness as it is the natural consequence of faith itself. I, not being a theologian, will therefore think aloud and hope that these meanderings will help some people cogitate on that subject.

Saint Thomas Doubting

Saint Thomas Doubting

THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF FAITH

First, it is important to tackle some aspects of the epistemology of faith from a more “generic” and intellectual perspective (“assenting to the truths of propositions”) in order to elucidate and clear up some notions 6. In order to do this, I will take a look at the works of Jacques Pierre, a French-Canadian philosopher of science and religion.

In his article Faith and the Anxious Margin of Knowledge 7. Pierre offers us a scenario that serves as a starting point to articulate his problematic: imagine two children discussing, in this case Pierre and his brother. The latter, jokingly and as a game, proposes that the former is in fact an alien. Thus, Pierre’s brother would be the victim of a set-up, worthy of an X-Files conspiracy. No matter how much Pierre tries to convince him otherwise with evidence or testimony, there is no argument: his appearance could have been changed, or his entire family could be aliens! The discourse is not, however, illogical, because in the end it is systematic and uses many arguments to feed its own position. It is, however, wrong.

Pierre uses this anecdote to discuss the linguistic and religious position at the level of the foundation and the benchmarks of referential frameworks, those needed for any ‘knowledge’ to exist. I am going to quote here one of his first conclusions in order to be able to begin my train of thought, which serves as a complementary reflection to that of Pierre:

So something was wrong with this speech: my brother, by his game, refused to subscribe to my word and hence to the sociality of which I was the representative and the bearer. However, the relevance of this sociality is never of the order of demonstration; it comes from belief and consent. It is necessary to agree on the means and strategies to separate the true from the false and at the same time admit that, on the basis of these means, the convention cannot itself be founded on them. […] It all begins somewhere through the event of a singular adherence to the word of someone who tells me that such and such a thing has such and such a name. In doing so, by refusing to believe me, my brother attacked at its root the very possibility of building knowledge. 8

Faith can therefore be seen as a mark of confidence, as adherence to a knowledge project, or even as the first station in a graduated process of knowledge: in all cases, it is relational (a fact that will be important later). There is a trust in the other, the subject who teaches me, the subject with whom I discuss, or the subject in whom I place my trust, my adherence, my belief. So it is also a belief and an adherence in sociality that exposes me to language as a frame of communication and exchange. The counter-point of this is that refusing to believe is to deny reality through asociality:

But my brother giving himself as the ultimate judgmental body, placed himself before an alternative: either the world conformed to him and became his addressee — in which case, my brother became an absolute subject, that is to say, God — or the world escaped him and my brother was now nothing; that is to say he locked himself in the virtual realm and remained below the status of subject. Absolute subjectivity beyond the story and / or absolute dereliction below it, the two cases result in the impossibility of narrativity.

A ship, in order to navigate the seas, requires a meridian system, but also a point “0” to anchor it. That is a fundamental concept of belief: by adhering to speech and trusting the other, we can start from somewhere. It’s not that Greenwich is a magically perfect place to determine the “0”, but rather that we need a place from which to start the “0”. In other words, from the epistemological point of view, faith is necessary to all knowledge, if at least to make sure that we can decide that the referential framework of reality we have is anchored somewhere.

I use the term “accept” in part as “adherence to”; it is to subscribe to the veracity of a datum without necessarily being able to prove it by the procedures that one considers as verifier or veridictor in said referential framework. This does not mean that there is no doubt, or that doubt isn’t present in a belief system: doubt is present everywhere since our everyday interactions aren’t made of axioms and logical/evidential proofs at every turn 9. Rather, it is that such a system exists at all. Seen from this perspective, belief is not about facts: it’s not that belief is necessarily against facts, but it’s a practical engagement with reality that overthrows fact. Reality is therefore seen as a process engaged by faith.

A corollary issue of this is that some people will equate knowledge with looking: “I see something, therefore I know something”. The conclusion to this of course is that on one hand, people want to see in order to know (Saint Thomas) 10, and on the other hand, their own beliefs are projected onto what they see and they think is “objective”. Would knowledge not always be based on a belief, namely the belief that knowledge itself has some value to pursue, or that knowledge itself exists? Isn’t knowledge justly accepted because we believe in the same verification processes within our frame of reference 11? This is what we could infer from Saint Augustine when he says in De Praedestinatione Sanctorum: “To believe is nothing other than to think with adherence. Believers are also thinkers: by believing they think, and by thinking they believe. If belief does not think, it is nothing” 12? In reality, we could say like Clement of Alexandria, that faith is the “epistemic capacity of perceiving [the demonstrations of God that He Himself offers to us]” 13.

The first thing we need to clarify is that what we generally translate as “faith” or “belief” could be instead translated as “faithfulness”. In the Greek New Testament, one of the group words that appears most in connection with faith and believing it is the classic term pistis — (from which we get epistemology), most notably rendered as a verb πιστεύ (pisteuo, loosely translated as I believe). The author who uses it the most is Saint John the Theologian. I’ll give you an example of its use in John 1: 7:

οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν (pisteusosin) δι᾽ αὐτοῦ 14

In the New Testament, this “I believe” is sometimes understood in the broad sense of assent, whether it is as important metaphysically as in John 1: 7 which I have just stated, or if we take for example 1 Corinthians 11:18 where Saint Paul “believes” (pisteuo) the rumors that the churches are divided. And yet, a couple of lines further (13: 7), Saint Paul still uses pistis — to speak of Christians who endure everything and believe everything as to the truths contained in the person of Christ, implying a deeper concern for trust and faithfulness. Elsewhere in the New Testament when the term is used, it can mean “to believe that something is true”, “to place one’s trust in something or its truthfulness”, or even the acceptance of intellectual data or a simple fact. It is also a question of fidelity and trust, as demonstrated in the faith that the early Christians placed in Christ. It is, therefore, a matter of contextualizing “faithfulness”: on one side, faith seen as subjective assent or on the other side, communal faith.

In Orthodox Christianity, this pistis is considered a faculty of the nous, therefore a more intuitive consideration of reality: “Faith — not only an individual or theoretical belief in the dogmatic truths of Christianity, but an all-embracing relationship, an attitude of love and trust in God. As such it involves a transformation of man’s entire life. Faith is a gift from God, the means whereby we are taken up into the whole theanthropic activity of God in Christ and of man in Christ through which man attains salvation.” 15. Faith becomes an epistemic capacity 16. Therefore, faith opens up possibility, things known “hinge” on faith, and that faith is related directly to the Energies of God, of what He wants to act in us: “A man advises his neighbor in accordance with what his neighbor knows. Correspondingly, God acts on one who hears Him according to the degree of his faith.” (Abba Mark, The Evergetinos).

As a result of this reflection, to believe is in fact to accept an experiential datum within a frame of reference built within a web of relationships. Therefore, as posited by Clement of Alexandria, faith is based on the adherence to first principles of demonstration 17. The first conclusion therefore is that believing, as an epistemological act, has a strong communal component, which we will now take a look at.

Seventh Ecumenical Council

Seventh Ecumenical Council

THE COMMUNITY OF FAITH

This detour through epistemology was meant first to confirm some basic facts about the “consensual” aspect of faith in order to show that indeed, it is misguided to consider faith as some form of intellectual weakness or superstition. Two conclusions we drew were that faith is the ground of knowledge and that believing is an active subjective communal process in relation with reality. However, I believe it is a form of misguidance to reduce faith in a Christian perspective to simply what we spoke about earlier, faith as the assented mental construct of “right beliefs”. In order to give a more accurate portrait, we will now tackle a more theological, Biblical and symbolic aspect of it.

The nations around Israel knew/believed that Yahweh existed, and so did Israel of the pagan gods around. The issue was with their understanding of what they were (i.e. dark principalities and powers) and with their relationship to them (i.e. being “faithful” to Yahweh alone) 18. This choice was reflected in one of the Latin terms that was chosen for the Vulgate, crederent, which comes from creed, a term which means “to place one’s trust in a thing”, and is also the term used for the Nicean Creed or ‘Symbol of Faith’. This creed was traditioned to us not as a mere set of intellectual truths to assent to, but as a living tradition; and yet it starts with Πιστεύω: I believe. We pronounce it individually (it is this “I” who believes), and yet as a community it binds us (“One Church, One Faith”) 19: faith is dynamic and a dialogue with the world and the community.

Moreover, it is a “symbol” of the faith. A symbol 20 is something that joins together, from the Greek sumbolon. As written in a french Orthodox catechetical book:

When a betrothed went away in a far country, he would give his bride a randomly broken stick. For his part, he kept the other half, called the symbol. That way, he could find back his love many years later since both of those pieces would join perfectly together. In this manner, God gave us half of the stick which is the Symbol of Faith so that we can find Him back in His Heavenly Kingdom when our profession of faith is met with Truth.

In this particular example, we can see that our faithfulness is about the expectations of things to come and maintaining that trust as a community: these are recorded in the Creed. Therefore, what has been traditioned to us is also, from a meta perspective, both an understanding of that tradition and our trust in it. Many of the Fathers have given us definitions and aims for our faith based on that21.

For this community of Saints that unites under a conciliar spirit and is directed by the Holy Spirit, the Faith is sometimes “subject” of a relation. For example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa (On the Faith) discourses about the content of the truth of our Christian life and understanding of the world. Saint Irenaeus (Against Heresies) says: “The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation.”. These various statements of faith, anchored in a community that handed those truths through time and space, are about giving us a grounding for our understanding of the world 22.

But this relation to faith is sometimes explained with regards to “faithfulness”, as St Gregory of Sinai writes:

…a man has no right to be called faithful, if his faith is a bare word and if he has not in him a faith made active by love or the Spirit. Thus faith must be made evident by progress in works, or it must act in the light and shine in works, as the divine Apostle says: ‘Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works’ (James 2:18), thus showing that the faith of grace is made evident by works performed in accordance with the commandments, just as the commandments are fulfilled in deed and are made bright through the faith which is in grace. 23

Both of them, the subjective faith and the faith as faithfulness, can even be put together so as to be two sides of the same coin:

…there is one kind of faith, the dogmatic, involving an assent of the soul on some particular point…But there is a second kind of faith which is bestowed by Christ as a gift of grace…The faith then which is given of grace from the Spirit is not merely doctrinal, but also works things above man’s power. 24

Therefore faith has two aspects: a communal active participation (faithfulness) and a subjective assent (belief) 25.

The Ships of the Faithful

The Ships of the Faithful, by Ted Nasmith (authorized use)

THE SYMBOLISM OF FAITHFULNESS

As we have seen, faith is a rather difficult concept to ‘pin’ to one definition as it is multifaceted. For these reasons, very few ‘symbols’ in the material realm represent it. We could point to symbols of hope of things to come (such as the New Jerusalem) or of belief in deeper truths (such as the Cross).

That being said, focusing on the ‘willed-knowing’ and faithfulness of faith as understood in the Old Covenant, we could focus our symbolic analysis by looking at that active part: faith in God as a human activity that is maintained by active participation. In order to do so, I will first take a look at an example from popular culture: the text of the Akallabêth of J.R.R. Tolkien as it is found in the Silmarillion. The Akallabêth deals with the rise and fall of Numenor, Tolkien’s “Atlantis”. At the end of it, the city and its might sink into oblivion because of their rebellion against the Valar and Eru (i.e. God) 26.

However, in all of this, a remnant of the faithful (as they are called in the book) manage to keep their obligations and trust in the Valar, and escape with a material component of their faithfulness to Eru, the White Tree. It is even implied that this happens because one of them, Amandil, father of Elendil, decided to go into the Blessed Realm to bargain for the faithful, as Abraham did with Sodom and Gomorrhe.

It is clear here that Tolkien did not imply that the Numenorians did not “know” about the Valar, or did not “believe” in the existence of Eru Illuvatar. Rather, it is clearly implied that it is their trust in them and their intent that waned: and this happened because of their increased pride and fear of death (which replaced their fear of God). Moreover, the direct consequence of this was the decline of their faithfulness (throwing aside their obligations) and their blaspheme (notably by performing human sacrifice and setting up a temple to Melkor, the ‘devil’ figure). More interestingly, on the positive side, he cites a “faithful remnant” of people that kept the “faith” alive by being good-natured and following the commandments of the Valar.

This last aspect directly echoes the various examples of faithfulness in the Old Testament. As was already mentioned, Abraham too tried to convince God to spare a multitude because of a faithful few 27, again a matter of community. He was himself faithful to Him by abiding with the sacrifice of Isaac, or leaving his tribe to go far away. It is also the “remnants” that is spoken about when the ancient Israelites/Hebrews were in exile: people that remained faithful to God by their actions, not by their simple intellectual assent. This same remnant was present when Christ was made known, as they were repenting followers of St John the Baptist (himself part of that remnant).

Another example on different scale would be the movie Excalibur. The movie shows that during the climax of Arthur’s reign, as everything starts to fall apart (treason, war, adultery, etc.), his most dedicated entourage (Gwynevere and Lancelot) leave him and shun all forms of righteousness and faithfulness. However, at the end of the movie, it is shown that Arthur’s redemption is accomplished notably through both of them finding back their faithfulness: Gwynevere having kept the Sword (having kept faith, i.e. the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ from St Paul, himself depicted with a sword) and Lancelot coming back to help him in the final battle. In these instances, it is shown that faithfulness is a continuum which, when lost, can be re-obtained. This again is shown clearly in the Old Testament as Israel rejects God and comes back to him through a faithful presence and activity in the world, a motif very much present in the Book of Judges and exemplified in the episode of Josiah’s rediscovery of the Torah.

Faith therefore becomes a first and continuous step (“and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.”) towards action in the process that is the spiritual life 28. Those who keep it active are exercising faithfulness through righteousness as Saint Paul writes in Roman 1:17: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”29. In Saint John’s letters, it is evident that works proceed from faith, perfect faith and allow faith to accomplish its goal 30. Righteousness therefore becomes the visible face of faith.

CONCLUSION

To summarize the intent of this article: we attempted to show that “faith” is not merely about epistemological naivety but rather an intuitive assent to God’s manifestations on the subjective level, and a communal relationship. Moreover, that epistemological “faith” is only one side of the coin of how it is understood, the other being a more “active” principle, namely faithfulness (both true on the individual and communal level). Because of that, we could posit that the Greek word in the Gospel translated in English as “faith”, “belief” and “I believe” could (and should) be translated as “faithfulness” in order to better render the conceptual paradigm behind the word. This faithfulness means loyalty and trust: it is an active feature 31. This isn’t just an intellectual assent, it involves action. It is the idea of “keeping faith” to remain loyal 32, just as in the Akallabêth, Amandil and his lineage stayed loyal to the Valar and their obligations or as in Excalibur Lancelot came back to Arthur at the end of everything.

I want to present faith as approaching and learning (of) someone. You cannot know everything ‘rationally’ about someone. Also, to learn the deepest truths about someone, you need to trust the other (notably because he will say or show something about himself that you’ll have to believe) 33. You can learn many things about someone from reason and facts, such as books and data. But to really know someone, you need love, trust, experience. Ultimately, faith is this ‘process’ of encountering (or replying to the encounter of) the Persons of the Triune God.

To push the metaphor of the interpersonal relationship further (which is valid because God presented Himself to us as persons, hypostases), think of falling in love. When you fall in love (or, fall in “faith”), it is not so much about facts. Looking at the medical records of the other person, notwithstanding the creepiness of it, won’t make you love that person more. Nor will tax forms. Just as you build that relationship through hardship and even silence, you can build your faith. Faith is participatory and not abstract. We do not believe through universals but through particulars. We believe in people: we meet God by believing in Christ (Hb XI, 33-XII, 2). God doesn’t reveal us ideas and concepts (because He is beyond them), He reveals us a life, a Person, His Only Begotten Son.

Saint Maximus the Confessor (Ad Thalassium 60) says that there are two kinds of knowledge, one relative and perceptual based on reason and ideas, and another participatory by grace. Faith opens us to that particular knowledge. And for him, it is that knowledge that enables us to achieve deification (theosis). Our faith comes from this participation in Christ. For example, we sometimes see πιστεως Χριστοu (see Philipian 3:9), “faith out of Christ”. The same formulation is used to say, for example, that a child comes from a woman’s womb. Christ is the source and origin of our “trust” and our perception of reality: He is the beginning and the end of our faith. To grow in faith is also to grow in the perception of God and His involvement: it is to grow in Christ. In my everyday life, I might cry because I lost X, Y, Z, but I do not seem to cry for my sins towards God: it is precisely because I lack faith, I miss seeing His presence 34 in my life and ultimately fulfilling my obligations to Him as I would an earthly king. Our relationship with God requires faith to grow in this way.

This can explain why Christ tells us that we need to become like children to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven. Infant faith is not rational consent: children have faith in their parents as a form of ontological dependence and trust 35. This also extends to our faith in God which doesn’t stop at some form of intellectualization: Saint John the Forerunner recognized Christ & the Theotokos from the womb as an unborn child.

In Hebrew, emunah (אמונה, pronounced “eh-moo-nah”) can mean faith and belief, but mostly faithfulness (i.e. our aim towards our trust in God), acting on our own reliance on Him. The same root of the Hebrew root of emunah also gives us amen: by saying it at the end of our prayers, we not only trust in the results of it, but agree to be faithful to it 36. Therefore, when we have faith in Christ, we show our loyalty to Him because of our absolute ontological dependence and trust in Him in which “we live and move and have our being”, and this in turn grounds our understanding of the world and of others. This is why faithfulness and the object of our faith is directly linked with our capacity for theosis 37, according to God’s will:

And just as tools without the workmen and the workmen without tools are unable to do anything, just so neither is faith without the fulfillment of the commandments, nor the fulfillment of the commandments without faith able to renew and re-create us, nor make us new men from the old. But, whenever we do possess both within a heart free of doubt, then we shall become the Master’s vessels, be made fit for the reception of the spiritual myrrh. Then, too, will He Who makes darkness His hiding-place renew us by the gift of the Holy Spirit and raise us up new instead of old, and part the veil of His darkness and carry our mind away and allow it to peek as through some narrow opening, and grant it to see Him, still somehow dimly, and one might look on the disk of the sun or moon. It is then that the mind is taught — or, put better — knows and is initiated, and is assumed that truly in no other way does one arrive at even partial participation in the ineffable good things of God except by way of the heart’s humility, unwavering faith, and the resolve of the whole soul to renounce all the world and everything in it, together with one’s own will, in order to keep all of God’s commandments. 38

  1. André Lalande, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie. P.U.F.[]
  2. On this subject, Fernand Dumont stated in Le sort de la culture:
    “Science does not limit itself to giving itself an object. In this opposite, it sees its counterpart: what it studies, it will replace one day. Religion is the other of science “.[]
  3. Ancient apologetics, such as the exposition of the faith by Saint John of Damascus, are a very good resource for this. From a non-unrthodox point of view, many philosophers have written books on the fundamentals of belief and faith, such as William James’ The Will to Believe. However, this last category falls into the trap of considering faith as intellectual assent, a problem we will deal with further below. More recently, many apologetical works have been produced or even shown freely online in the manner of Youtube commentaries or debates. For example, consider Jay Dyer (https://www.youtube.com/c/JayDyer) []
  4. Every religion has ‘evidence’, whether they are texts, miracles, testimony, etc. This evidence is interpreted in a paradigm. In a very simplified sense, no matter the evidence, you may never ‘convince’ someone that doesn’t want convincing. Also, what ‘justifies’ paradigmatically for an agnostic/atheist that ‘this’ would prove God, but not ‘that’?

    Every worldview, at some point, will break down and have a ‘mysterious’ element that can’t be explained. Trusting in that ‘extra’ or ‘liminal aspect’ of existence is part of faith. If you ‘believe in God’, it’s that you ‘believe in the extraliminal aspect that is beyond your own understanding’. That trust is faithfulness, and you actualize it by righteousness: otherwise, is it dead. In a sense, you cannot “not have faith”: you act out your faith. Everybody has a belief system, everybody has a paradigm. You can’t have a totally a-gnostic or ‘objective’ paradigm. []

  5. As Father Stephen Freeman writes: “The primary mode of cultural education is not choice – rather – it is tradition. Most of what and who we are is “handed down” to us (literally “traditioned”). For the most part it is an unconscious process – both for the one who delivers the tradition as well as for the one who receives it. From the smallest actions of speaking to a baby, slowly passing on language, to the highest actions of belief and understanding, the vast majority of what forms and shapes us will have come through a traditioning.” On that subject, I suggest reading Fr. Freeman’s articles “How Tradition Saves Us” and “The Tradition of Being Human“ (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/10/30/form-and-conformity-how-tradition-saves-us/ and https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/07/31/the-tradition-of-being-human/) []
  6. We will later see that this intellectualization of the Christian faith is insufficient. On that subject, see Fr. Stephen De Young’s blog article on “Faithfulness” (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2019/10/02/faithfulness/) where he writes, amongst other things: “The ‘Christian faith then, by extension [considered as the protestant-oriented notion], refers to those doctrinal truths which must be believed in order to receive this salvation. Atheists as outsiders can then assess the evidential basis for this assent and choose to find it wanting, while a certain breed of apologists attempts to answer these criticisms by adducing neutral evidence that these propositions are, in fact, true.“ That particular article has been invaluable for the present piece. []
  7. Le croire et la bordure inquiète du savoir. All translations of this work in the text are mine since the article has not been translated into English. []
  8. Ibidem []
  9. Many have doubted and believed, or many have been induced to doubt by evil powers. At a more fundamental level, we can either trust or doubt others: this doubt is also what prevents us from knowing. From the perspective of Pierre (Le croire et la bordure inquiète du savoir): “Doubt, in fact, is incapable of extricating itself from itself and, without this fulcrum found in some sociality, it quickly slips into indifferentiation. Doubt exists only in doubting something and lasts as long as it is provided with the material. But if we stop feeding it, it will run out and gradually retreat to its ‘empty fortress’. Doubt says nothing by itself; and, by pushing it to the end, we end up with the limiting but empty evidence of the Cartesian cogito. Generalized doubt is certainly an act of sovereignty without allegiance, without subordination, free from any compromise; but it is without posterity either; as vain as it is absolute, because the subject remains there for ever a pure virtuality; impregnable because never having committed himself to believing in something; strong in the sole possibility of not being“. From a symbolic perspective, absolute doubt is therefore chaos, akin to the primordial waters that are unformed and purely virtual in their telos.

    That being said, doubt, although privative, is not always negative: Dostoeisvky wrote that his “hosannas were forged in the furnace of doubt”. It is also important to consider that faith and doubt as co-existent realities do not preclude conversation about God. In Job and Ecclesiaste for example, the world and the action of God are questioned, but never is God out of the picture: you can challenge, question, or think around Him, but you cannot do without Him. []

  10. From the Greeks, the verb to see (eiden) is both the word for knowledge and the word for the “idea”/forms of Plato. In the Gospels, we can see this also in Saint Thomas with relation to the resurrection. []
  11. Some atheists sometimes object that if you have sufficient reason to believe something, it’s reasonable; and that if you don’t, then reason is not useful and it is mere opinion, creating a false dichotomy. Faith, as presented here, is the bed from which reason can function at all: reason stands on the presuppositions of faith. It is not against, over, or under it. Therefore, faith is not about “I believe in something (i.e. I trust in things that cannot be known)”, it is not reducible to fideism. []
  12. Alternatively, in “Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen”: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe”. This has been reformulated by C.S. Lewis: “You see because of faith”. []
  13. Father Dragos Andrei Giulea, Apprehending ‘Demonstrations’ from the First Principle: Clement of Alexandria’s Phenomenology of Faith[]
  14. He came to serve as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that all might believe through him[]
  15. Glossary of terms from the Philokalia Vol. 4[]
  16. Fr. Dragos, ibidem. []
  17. For more on this, I suggest reading Father Dragos Andrei Giulea’s work Clement of Alexandria. It’s interesting to note also that for Clement, faith is also what is reached after the demonstration of something, i.e. a strong conviction in the truth of a known thing. His whole epistemological project is built against the notion that some gnostics “know” special truths and that faith is unnecessary for salvation. []
  18. See 1 Cor 8:5-6 []
  19. The latin word religion, religare, can mean “to bind together”.[]
  20. It is important to note that the contrary of a symbol is a diabolos, divisive, i.e. from which comes the word “the devil”.[]
  21. The content of the Symbol itself is of much depth and truth. It deals with the role of the individual towards his community and God (the initial “I believe” is recited in group in a liturgical context both also individually in our prayers connecting us with the whole of the Body of Christ), with anthropology (truths about Christ’s incarnation are truths about us), cosmogony (“… Maker of …”), cosmology/hierarchy (“… heaven and earth …”), salvation, ecclesiology, etc. A whole article could be written on that content. It is important to know that it is a summary of the Apostolic teaching, not some intellectualized creation: things in it were known since the beginning and had been themselves traditioned to the Church Fathers. []
  22. It would be possible to produce many more quotes on that subject, such as Saint Gregory Nazianzen “Faith is that which completes our argument” and so on.[]
  23. St. Gregory of Sinai, Texts on Commandments and Dogmas, no. 119[]
  24. St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, no. 5. Again, this points to the fact that there is a subjective human faith and a ‘Godly’ faith bestowed on us, and that our goal is to make the two meet together, like the symbol written about earlier on.[]
  25. Therefore, the “confessing” (and communal aspect) of our faith is already our devotion to its faithfulness: “Complete salvation depends not on the faith of the heart alone, but also upon confessing it, for the Lord said, `Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in Heaven’ (Mt. 10:33). Also, the divine Apostle teaches: `For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (Rom. 10:10). If, then, God and the divine Prophets and Apostles command that the mystery of faith be confessed in words and with the tongue, and this mystery of faith brings salvation to the whole world, then people must not be forced to keep silence with regard to confession, lest the salvation of people be hindered.” St. Maximus the Confessor, In the Life. []
  26. For those requiring a larger context, I will try to summarize briefly that work. It deals with the beginning of the Second Age, after Melkor/Morgoth, a Satan/Devil figure, has been banished from Arda (the world of Middle-Earth). In the wake of this war, a group of faithful, good and wise men went to settle on an island granted by the powers and principalities (the Valar, aka higher angels/beings) that were faithful to Eru Illuvatar (God). These men created a very advanced society akin to Atlantis, and were called the Numenorians (from whom Elendil, Isildur and Aragorn of the Lord of the Rings descends).

    This civilization grows ever more powerful and prideful because of their knowledge of many things and blessings from the Valar. However, at some point, they start to be more and more allured to the darkness of the world, rejecting the benediction of the Valar and wanting ever more things, including eternal life in the Blessed Realms: a thing that was strictly forbidden to them by the Valar. Therefore, they shun their obligations and responsibility to those above them in the hierarchy.

    Finally, they get ensnared by the wiles and guiles of Sauron that turns them to worship of Melkor through human sacrifice and sacrilege. This results in their hubris of rejecting the ban on sailing to the Blessed Realms and the subsequent punishment of Eru Illuvatar that brings about their complete and utter ruin, including the sinking of Numenor. []

  27. Although out of the scope of this article, it is also my belief that the saints uphold the faithfulness of the human race and grant us mercy from the judgment of God. []
  28. This is even true of reading the Bible, as Cassiodorus writes in his Divine Institutes: “Human reason indeed did not create these writings, but heavenly virtue imbued holy men with them; a clear understanding of these writings is then granted when in a spirit of dedication the mind believed that these works preached something true and beneficial. For what usefulness and sweetness will you not find in those writings, if you look with a clearly enlightened mind? […] Hence we are advised not only to listen to the words, but to fulfil them in holy works”. []
  29. It would be possible also to quote Saint Maximus the Confessor for something very similar: “As the memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not bring about the illumination of knowledge in the soul.” []
  30. On that subject, it is possible to see various debates or apologetic texts. Here is a suggested one from a recap of a debate Kabane the Christian (Seraphim Hamilton) had with Matt Slick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz9up-yBAqU []
  31. A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, “Give me a word.” And he said to him, “The fathers put compunction as the beginning of every action.” The brother said again, “Give me another word.” The old man replied, “As far as you can, do some manual work so as to be able to give alms, for it is written that alms and faith purify from sin.” The brother said, “What is faith?” The old man said, “Faith is to live humbly and to give alms.” (except taken from the Desert Fathers) []
  32. Therefore, as an answer to our earlier conception of doubts, doubt is seen as an active feature, an action. It is about wavering, not about thinking. This is why Saint John of Kronstadt can say that those who do not believe are “faint-hearted”, again pointing to the relationship between faith and “will-knowing”. []
  33. Although out of the scope of this article, the ritual act of sacrifice is, in itself, a way of opening and trusting the other as you are withdrawing from reality something in order to offer it, without knowing fully what to expect in return. To read more on this, see Jacques Pierre article “Le sacrifice: persistance et métamorphose” in Sémiotique et Bible []
  34. On this lack of perception of His Presence, see my other article: https://thesymbolicworld.com/articles/bible/perceiving-the-invisible-god/ []
  35. This formulation is taken from the works of Fr Deacon Ananias, see https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6sdaVrDgFTdluBnNhLE9mg []
  36. This is why the simple “faith as assent” is totally insufficient, since like Fr Stephen De Young says: “Every demonic powers assents intellectually to the truth of every proposition which makes up the Gospel and the teaching of the Christian religion. It avails them nothing because there is no loving loyalty for their Creator”. This is why we are called to approach God with fear, faith and love: this does not imply “intellectual assent” but rather “faithfulness”. []
  37. Or, as Saint Mark the Ascetic said it in Concerning those who think to be justified through works: “Faith consists not only of being baptized in Christ, but also in fulfilling His commandments. Holy Baptism is perfect and gives us perfection, but does not make perfect those who do not follow the commandments.” []
  38. St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life, Vol. I.[]